Complaints in federal, circuit courts say city broke whistleblower law

Three Cornelius police officers who signed a letter in October 2012 alleging corruption inside the department have filed lawsuits against the city of Cornelius.

Sgt. Shawn Watts and Officer Miguel Monico filed a complaint against the city in federal court Monday, Dec. 2, for damages, claiming city officials violated Oregon’s Whistleblower Protection Statute and intentionally inflicted emotional distress on them.

Officer Mark Jansen filed a lawsuit the same day in Washington County Circuit Court, likewise claiming city officials violated the state’s whistleblower law and allegedly took action against him that caused him to fear the loss of his job.

Both lawsuits list Cornelius City Manager Rob Drake, Police Chief Ken Summers and Lt. Joe Noffsinger as defendants.

Summers said he has not been served with the lawsuit and has not seen it.

“All we know is what’s in the papers,” Summers said. “Some of what I’ve read are wild allegations — really outrageous.”

The lawsuit claims city officials violated the state’s whistleblower law when they released the officers’ letter to the media and other city employees last November. The law states that during an investigation into complaints about a public employer’s conduct, the employer can’t reveal the identity of the complaining employee without written consent.

The three officers accused of misconduct in the letter were later cleared of criminal charges after a state investigation.

Jansen’s complaint states he was “singled out, threatened and retaliated against” by the defendants, and “placed under a microscope and threatened with disciplinary action.”

The complaint document continues to say the defendants’ “malicious actions” created a work environment “so hostile that Mr. Jansen dreaded arriving to work each day.”

In addition, Jansen’s complaint claims the defendants’ actions caused him to be scared he would lose his job.

He is asking for economic and non-economic damages to be determined at trial; costs, disbursements and attorney fees; and any other relief the court deems “equitable, just and proper.”

In their complaint, Watts and Monico make similar claims against the city of Cornelius.

The two claim they prepared the original October 2012 letter alleging corruption “because they were alarmed by the negative reputation and public trust with the police department,” and that officers who were “personally loyal” to former Chief Paul Rubenstein “were treated more favorably.”

By releasing the letter last year, Watts claims, the city deprived him of his protected First Amendment Speech Right.

Of the three officers, Monico’s case is complicated by a separate, civil lawsuit that was filed against him claiming he fabricated a confession from a Cornelius man who was arrested for drug possession in 2010.

After reviewing the case, U. S. Magistrate Judge Paul Papak found April 10 that a jury could reasonably conclude Monico “entirely fabricated” the man’s confession and also that Monico lied about a drug test critical to the arrest.

On April 15, Summers released the findings the same month to the Washington County District Attorney’s office, which consequently put Monico on the “Brady List” April 17, fingering him as an officer whose credibility has been called into question, according to the complaint.

Monico claims Summers released that information prematurely, noting in his complaint that officers on the Brady List often “face destroyed careers in law enforcement.”

But Summers said he and the city could have been held liable if they were aware of such information and did not release it.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman has since reviewed and upheld some of Papak’s findings, concluding the lawsuit against Monico could move forward on several claims.

The complaint letter also claims un-uniformed officers came to Monico’s residence and placed their hands on their holstered firearms in front of his wife and children as they asked him to surrender his badge and credentials.

These actions were “unwarranted” and “beyond the scope of socially tolerable conduct,” the compliant claims, and were used to punish Monico for the October 2012 letter he signed.

Monico was placed on administrative leave by the defendants in April, and was forced to perform “menial cleaning and physical labor around the police department,” reads the complaint.

The complaint states these tasks were retaliatory against Monico, who was placed back on patrol duty after only a week or two and recently designed the department’s new uniform patch to signify its internal transformation.

The complaint also claims Watts was not considered for a promotion to lieutenant as punishment for signing the letter.

Watts and Monico are suing for noneconomic damages of $1.5 million; economic damages to be determined at trial; punitive damages; attorneys’ fees, costs and disbursements; and for any other relief the court “deems equitable, just and proper.”

“We followed proper protocol in all areas,” said Summers, who said he could not comment on some of the details but hopes that once he can read the complaint letters in their entirety, some of the claims will make more sense to him.

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